Year
1916

Birth control pioneer arrested

Emma Goldman, a crusader for women’s rights and social justice, is arrested in New York City for lecturing and distributing materials about birth control. She was accused of violating the Comstock Act of 1873, which made it a federal offense to disseminate contraceptive devices and information through the mail or across state lines. In addition to advocating for women’s reproductive rights, Goldman, who was later convicted and spent time in jail, was a champion of numerous controversial causes and ideas, including anarchism, free speech and atheism. Nicknamed “Red Emma,” the forward-thinking Goldman was arrested multiple times for her activist activities.

Goldman was born into a poor Jewish family in Russia in 1869. She fled her homeland as a teenager in 1885 and ended up in Rochester, New York. There she was employed at a factory and became involved in the labor movement, protesting poor working conditions and advocating for unions and an eight-hour workday. She was influenced by the Haymarket Riot in Chicago in 1886, in which a rally organized by anarchist workers turned into a violent confrontation with police. The anarchists were later convicted and four were hanged. Goldman later relocated to New York City, where she joined the anarchist movement and was romantically linked to anarchist and fellow Russian Alexander Berkman. In 1892, Berkman attempted to kill Henry Clay Frick, the owner of Carnegie Steel, following a violent workers’ strike in Homestead, Pennsylvania. Berkman was sent to prison, but Goldman, who was believed to have known about the plan, went free due to a lack of evidence.

In New York, Goldman spent time working as a nurse and midwife among the poor. Her experiences convinced her that birth control was essential to women improving their lives and achieving economic and sexual equality. Goldman, a skilled writer, editor and orator, spoke publicly about contraception and was a mentor to Margaret Sanger, the birth-control pioneer who founded the organization that would become Planned Parenthood. In 1916, Sanger opened America’s first birth-control clinic in Brooklyn, New York; law enforcement officials shut it down after 10 days. Sanger opened the first legal clinic in the United States in 1923. In 1936, in an amendment to the Comstock Act, American doctors gained the legal right to prescribe and distribute contraceptive devices through the mail and across state lines. In 1960, the FDA approved the first sale of a birth-control pill.

In addition to advocating for women’s reproductive rights, Goldman was an anti-war crusader. In 1917, she was arrested, along with Berkman, for protesting America’s involvement in World War I and the draft. Both spent two years in prison and were then deported back to Russia. Goldman lived the rest of her life in Russia, Europe and Canada, and died in Toronto in 1940 at age 70. She was buried in the German Waldheim Cemetery, near Chicago, the burial place of the Haymarket anarchists and other political radicals.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Pop superstar Whitney Houston dies at age 48

On this day in 2012, Whitney Houston, one of the world’s top-selling singers from the mid-1980s to late 1990s, is found dead in the bathtub of her suite at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. Houston’s death was the result of accidental drowning; heart disease ...read more

The world’s fourth space power

From the Kagoshima Space Center on the east coast of Japan’s Ohsumi Peninsula, Ohsumi, Japan’s first satellite, is successfully launched into an orbit around Earth. The achievement made Japan the world’s fourth space power, after the Soviet Union in 1957, the United States in ...read more

Virgin Mary appears to St. Bernadette

In southern France, Marie-Bernarde Soubirous, a 14-year-old French peasant girl, first claims to have seen the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ and a central figure in the Roman Catholic religion. The apparitions, which totaled 18 before the end of the year, occurred in a ...read more

Nelson Mandela released from prison

Nelson Mandela, leader of the movement to end South African apartheid, is released from prison after 27 years on February 11, 1990. In 1944, Mandela, a lawyer, joined the African National Congress (ANC), the oldest black political organization in South Africa, where he became a ...read more

Yalta Conference ends

On February 11, 1945, a week of intensive bargaining by the leaders of the three major Allied powers ends in Yalta, a Soviet resort town on the Black Sea. It was the second conference of the “Big Three” Allied leaders–U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister ...read more

The “Channel Dash”

On this day, the German battleships Gneisenau and Scharnhorst, as well as the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, escape from the French port of Brest and make a mad dash up the English Channel to safety in German waters. The Gneisenau and Scharnhorst had been anchored at Brest since ...read more

Russia’s General Kaledin commits suicide

Russian General Alexei Maximovitch Kaledin, a commander of Russian forces during World War I and a staunch opponent of the Bolsheviks, commits suicide on this day in 1918. Kaledin, born in 1861, was the son of a Don Cossack officer who early on began a military career of his ...read more

Farm Gate aircraft crashes

Nine U.S. and South Vietnamese crewmen are killed in a SC-47 crash about 70 miles north of Saigon. The aircraft was part of Operation Farm Gate, a mission that had initially been designed to provide advisory support in assisting the South Vietnamese Air Force to increase its ...read more

Underdog Buster Douglas knocks out Mike Tyson

In a major upset, Buster Douglas defeats Mike Tyson, the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, in 10 rounds at a boxing match in Tokyo, Japan. James “Buster” Douglas began boxing professionally in the 1980s and was considered a talented fighter, but it was believed he ...read more

Sacagawea gives birth to Pompey

Sacagawea, the Shoshone Indian interpreter and guide to the Lewis and Clark expedition, gives birth to her first child, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark first met the young Sacagawea while spending the winter among the Mandan Indians along the Upper ...read more

Voltaire is welcomed home

On this day in 1778, some 300 people visit Voltaire following his return to Paris. Voltaire had been in exile for 28 years. Born Francois-Marie Arouet to middle-class parents in Paris in 1694, Voltaire began to study law as a young man but quit to become a playwright. He made a ...read more

The Payola scandal heats up

The Payola scandal reaches a new level of public prominence and legal gravity on this day in 1960, when President Eisenhower called it an issue of public morality and the FCC proposed a new law making involvement in Payola a criminal act. What exactly was Payola? During the ...read more

Tolkien heirs file Lord of the Rings lawsuit

In the latest of a series of legal battles involving J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved trilogy The Lord of the Rings and film adaptations made of the books, several of Tolkien’s heirs join a group of publishers in filing a $150 million lawsuit against New Line Cinema on February 11, 2008, ...read more

Avalanches plague central Europe

On this day in 1952, a series of deadly avalanches begins across central Europe. A storm stalled over the middle of Europe the first week of February 1952, dumping a couple of feet of snow in parts of France, Austria, Switzerland and Germany. In many places, activity came to a ...read more

Burgess and Maclean resurface

Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess, former members of the British Foreign Office who had disappeared from England in 1951, resurface in Moscow. Their surprise appearance and formal statement to the press put an end to one of the most intriguing mysteries of the early Cold War. ...read more

Lincoln leaves Springfield

On this day in 1861, President-elect Abraham Lincoln leaves home in Springfield, Illinois, and embarks on his journey to Washington, D.C. On a cold, rainy morning, Lincoln boarded a two-car private train loaded with his family’s belongings, which he himself had packed and bound. ...read more

GM signs first autoworkers contract

After a six-week sit-down strike by General Motors (GM) autoworkers at the Fisher Body Plant No. 2 in Flint, Michigan, GM president Alfred P. Sloan signs the first union contract in the history of the American auto industry. The strike was organized by the United Auto Workers ...read more